Siegman on the U.S.-Israel Alliance, Published in England, Of Course

Why is it that the most important advances in American understanding of the Middle East can only appear in papers that spell neighbor “neighbour”? Lately it was Tony Judt in the London Review of Books. Before that the LRB gave us Walt and Mearsheimer. And now it’s the Financial Times, publishing the great Henry Siegman on the choice Israel faces, to live with its Arab neighbors or to depend on the United States.

If Israel indeed rejects this opportunity for dialogue with a Hamas prepared to end violence and accept Israel’s pre-1967 borders, its problem is not finding a Palestinian peace partner, but its rejection of any such partner in favour of reliance on the IDF to impose Israel’s will by force on its Arab neighbours. Such a decision, and Israel’s continued identification with Mr Bush’s misguided crusade against “Islamo-fascism”, will allow the hatred that surrounds Israel to undermine its existence in a part of the world that for the Jewish state would turn – sooner or later – into “the heart of darkness”.

Siegman’s argument is that Israel’s close affinity to the United States has hurt its own interests in the region. As our implication in the apartheid policies of the occupied West Bank have damaged our interests in the Arab world.

This is hardly a new point. I’ve been reading the history of Zionism, and one of the main points that Hannah Arendt made more than 50 years ago, or Avi Shlaim 15 years back, or Simha Flapan 20 years ago (read Prophets Outcast, the marvelous collection edited by the Nation’s Adam Shatz) is that Israel’s strategic decision to ally itself with a superpower in defiance of local opinion was a recipe for local disaster. Hey, all politics is local. The point is made in former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami’s recent book, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace:

What was to become a pillar of Ben-Gurion’s strategic thinking as the prime minister of the future state of Israel [was] never to operate without the support of a Western superpower… Most of the leaders of the Yishuv [Zionist settlement in Palestine] knew very little of Arab civilisation and despised what they saw…. The future Jewish state was to be for all of them an offshoot of Western civilization in the stagnant and despotic East.

Ben-Ami’s book was published earlier this year by Oxford University, by the way. Thus, civilisation.

The spelling speaks to the larger problem. Israel has become so dependent upon American power that it cares little about the opinion of its neighbors and everything about our opinion; and the organized Jewish community here has done all it can to limit questioning in this country of that policy, lest Israel is cast to the dogs—its neighbors. In a sense the Israel lobby here was born of Israeli policy: we must grapple the U.S. to us with hoops of steel. Thankfully for all, those hoops seem at last to be losing their grip. In the wake of the Iraq and Lebanon debacles, which have demonstrated the folly of militarism as a way of healing the Arab world, and of the continued overtures for peace from Israel’s Arab neighbors, Americans are beginning to question the wisdom of the alliance. For now they are expressing themselves in England. Soon that will change.